Hollow victory for Pike River families


Kia Ora

After 2 1/2 years of waiting the families and survivors of the Pike River mine disaster are to finally get a measure of financial compensation. In an emotional court hearing Judge Jane Farish struggled to hold her emotions in check as she read out her decision and its justification to the court, with her lower lip clearly trembling. When she finished her reading applause and thanks rang out.

It is however a hollow victory, as the post disaster fund has been almost completely drained and there is only N.Z.$156,000 in the fund account to pay out. The devastation that the disaster has wrought on the families of the deceased and the sole survivor, Daniel Rockhouse has been immense. Mr Rockhouse has lost his wife and children who have gone back to Germany and he has been taking counselling to manage his anxiety and anger. Other families spoke of the effect that losing a son/nephew/dad/uncle has had on their families and the the opportunities and aspirations for them that died in the explosions.

I cannot have anything other than the most profound sympathy for them. Many are wracked by guilt, wondering what the final hours/moments of their loved ones were like, whether they had survived the first blast and were waiting for help; whether there adequate provisions in the event of an emergency, such as medication and food; water and so forth. Not surprisingly they still want to get their loved ones out of the mine so that they can have closure and move on with their lives – something that is very hard to do when so many questions remain outstanding. It is also not surprising that at times they feel betrayed for all of the promises that have been made to get the bodies of their loved ones out. A number of questions have to be asked:

  1. Who will carry out the body retrieval?
  2. Is the mine safe to enter?
  3. If the mine is not safe to enter, can it be made safe?

The findings have been damning. It is well known that compared to Australian mines the Pike River mine was substandard. The cost of disbanding the mining inspectorate, whose job was to make sure that mines were safe to operate and compliant with occupational safety and health laws has been immense, with a litany of issues that were noted before the fatal explosions. Today in recognition of that Judge Farish ordered Pike River to pay $760,000 in fines and compensation of N.Z.$3.41 million to the families.

The former directors of Pike River denied the suggestion by Judge Farish that they had deliberately walked away from the families. In doing so, they pointed out the nearly $1 million that was made available after the initial disaster. Where will the money come from, given the poor state of the post disaster fund? Some suggest that the largest stakeholder N.Z. Oil and Gas front up with the money. Bernie Monk whose son died in the disaster doubted that the families would see any of the money, but supports New Zealand Oil and Gas being made to pay.

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